Why do students like (or not) particular subjects?
In computer science education, one of the big issues is how to find the students needed to fill the demand for jobs. This is motivated by job growth projections like the following:
As I have attended various workshops and presentations on this topic, I have been impressed by one element that seems to be missing in most, if not all studies. Few researchers ask the students if they like the pedagogical innovations they report and even fewer ask why or why not. From a research design perspective, I completely understand this decision. But it does leave me wondering if researchers are anywhere near the truth.
When students decide they don’t like some particular topic, why do they make that decision? A few possibilities that come to mind:
It’s all about the first course they take.
The teacher needs to be charismatic and engaging.
The teacher needs to be passionate about the topic.
The teacher needs to project personal interest in each student.
The assignments need to be easy enough to succeed, hard enough to challenge.
The topic needs to be taught in a larger context.
What is learned needs to be immediately interesting and applicable.
Repetition is needed to internalize each topic.
Variety is needed to prevent boring repetition.
There needs to be scope for creativity and personal expression.
There needs to be clearly defined right and wrong answers to learn.
It’s all about learning styles (visual, auditory, etc) Of all the things I list, learning styles is the only one that I know of research discrediting.
It’s all about image. Studying business administration puts you in a different social circle than studying nursing.
None of my friends are in those classes.
I don’t look like the other people in those classes.
That job is help by people who like X, not Y.
It’s all about the jobs that follow the studying.
There aren’t enough high-paying jobs: it’s all about money and security.
The process is fun, but the outcome is pointless: it’s all about doing something that matters.
It’s fun to learn, but the jobs will be repetitive/isolationist/annoying: it’s all about enjoying my work day.
People have innate preferences and interests outside of educational and social influence.
You either like it or your don’t. The end.
There are kinds of thought you do or do not enjoy, and topics that exercise different kinds of thought in different levels.
There are end results you care about, and others you don’t. You like topics you think can lead to ends you care about.
It’s mostly random or externally controlled. I like the topic where that kid I had a crush on seemed to be interested, but not the one I had a 2pm senior year.
I am certain I could add others to this list too…
So, why do you like what you like? When did you decide you liked it? Do people even know why they like what they like? If we want to end up with more interested students in a particular field, what elements of interest can we influence?